This year, performing arts at O’Dowd are responding to a uniquely challenging world. Students are not only living through a global pandemic, but also a heightened social, political, and cultural crisis to address institutionalized racism in our country. “In theatre, we are humanitarians,” says Trina Oliver. Lovingly called “Mizz O” by students, Trina jokingly refers to herself as “Queen Fabulous,” and has been teaching theatre arts at O’Dowd for over 20 years. “We make change by telling stories. That’s our charism for social justice. We help people see the world differently, and we motivate them to action.”
Students in the performing arts program are now working on a multidisciplinary project to capture their perspectives on coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the US history of systemic racism. “Students are producing monologues, scenes, songs, dance, and film,” reports Ashkon Davaran, O’Dowd’s new theatre arts teacher, who acted and taught in New York City before returning home to the Bay Area. “It’s really powerful for students to have an opportunity to produce their own stories. They are learning about each other’s different experiences and identities, and learning that justice is giving every story a place in the community tapestry.”
O’Dowd’s performing arts program is poised to build on its rich history. The Cor Unum Campaign for the O’Dowd Center includes new state-of-the-art Music and Drama studios – spaces for dance, ensemble performance, rehearsal space, instruction, and recording. These facilities are made possible in part by a generous gift from Elizabeth Cabraser ’70, one of the nation’s leading class action litigators and a music lover, who contributed to this project with the school’s first $1 million gift from an alum. Before law, Elizabeth considered going into music professionally. She started drumming in rock bands as a teenager, continued through law school, and still drums at live music venues and weddings. Elizabeth invested in the performing arts at O’Dowd because she recognizes how the arts unify our communities, help us understand each other better, and contribute to our better selves. She is joined in her investment by hundreds of O’Dowd community members, including current and former parents, who believe in the power of O’Dowd’s performing arts program.
“In theatre, we are humanitarians. We make change by telling stories. That’s our charism for social justice. We help people see the world differently, and we motivate them to action.” Trina Oliver – Drama Teacher
“What we teach in theatre are important skills for life,” asserts Trina. “Students learn drive, discipline, determination, collaboration, confidence, problem-solving and public speaking. It strengthens their characters and prepares them for whatever path they choose in life.” Elizabeth agrees. Her approach as an attorney is influenced by her practice as a musician. “You’ve got to be a great listener to play in a band,” she says.
O’Dowd’s commitment to the arts is due for a makeover. While as a school we have long invested resources in the programming, the facilities have fallen behind. “I’ve been teaching in a portable that’s as old as me,” laughs Trina. “It was supposed to be temporary, and 50 years later, it’s still here.” The new black box theatre and rehearsal spaces in the O’Dowd Center will allow the arts to expand and thrive. Over 200 students participate annually in drama. “The new drama classroom will enable us to tell more ambitious, multidimensional stories,” says Trina, “and we won’t have to tell kids to rehearse in the lobby anymore!”
“It’s really powerful for students to have an opportunity to produce their own stories. They are learning about each other’s different experiences and identities, and learning that justice is giving every story a place in the community tapestry.” Ashkon Davaran – Drama Teacher
The O’Dowd Center is the next chapter in our school’s commitment to the arts. “As a new teacher, it’s super clear to me how much O’Dowd supports and values the arts,” Ashkon enthuses. “The more the school invests and commits, the more our department can create and give.” Trina agrees. “Our theatre department is extraordinary because we’re professionals with advanced degrees,” she notes. “Our philosophy is not to do ‘great high school theatre.’ We aspire to produce great theatre, period.” The O’Dowd Center will continue to support that mission for generations to come.
O’Dowd’s newest show, in production now, will be released this fall.
We invite you to learn more and make a gift to the Cor Unum Campaign for the O’Dowd Center. Every single gift, no matter the size, will be matched by the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation, doubling the impact of your generosity. Visit us at www.odowdcorunum.org to learn more and help us grow.